General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

The shadow business secretary says there is a 'virus of racism' that runs through Ukip and that a Labour government would celebrate British multiculturalism

Nigel Farage and Ukip “hate modern Britain” and have a “problem with race”, Chuka Umunna says in an interview with The Independent on Sunday.

The shadow business secretary, whose father was born in Nigeria, responded to the Ukip leader’s description of two of Ukip’s spokesmen as “fully black” and “half black” by saying there is a “virus of racism” that runs through Mr Farage’s party. Mr Umunna added that, by contrast, a Labour government would celebrate British multiculturalism and refuse to bow to “anti-immigration sentiment”, which, he said, had been whipped up by Ukip.

Mr Umunna was speaking during a visit to the Croydon Central constituency, where Labour’s candidate Sarah Jones is hoping to overturn a Conservative majority of 2,879 currently held by Gavin Barwell. He mounted a staunch defence of the benefits of immigration to the UK, although refused to condemn the Labour Party mug that trumpeted “Controls on Immigration”.


Mr Umunna, who is defending his Streatham, south London, seat and is regarded as a frontrunner in the next Labour leadership contest, told The IoS: “The likes of Ukip don’t like what modern Britain is. They claim to love Britain, but they hate modern Britain. If I’m wrong about that why do we see a stream of invective directed at different groups in society from their candidates and their members?

“There is a virus of racism which runs through that party which they’ve failed to deal with, and I’m not surprised given their leader doesn’t see the need for equalities legislation that we have in Britain today and that we’re very proud of.”


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Last week, Mr Farage defended Ukip’s manifesto, which featured only one ethnic-minority person, saying the party had one spokesman who was “fully black” and another who was “half black”.

Responding to these remarks, Mr Umunna said: “I just think the guy’s got a problem with race. I’m just saying what I think. As a party they’ve got a problem with race. And I don’t think you can kick out racism from their party unless you have got a leadership which understands it and understands race in modern Britain.

“I have no truck with this notion that immigrants are to blame for all of the country’s problems. We saw people do that to black and Asian people like my father in the Sixties and Seventies, and now the group they’re trying to blame for all their problems are Eastern Europeans.”

Chuka Umunna says only Labour’s policies, not its leadership, should be fair game for criticism (PA)

He also criticised use of the word “tolerant” when used to describe Britain because it suggested “there’s something negative that we’re having to put up with”. If Labour is in government next month, Mr Umunna said the party would reinvigorate the spirit of the London 2012 Olympics, “with an open, outward-looking approach to the world, a sane and rational debate around immigration, and recognising that if we are going to be able to make it in an increasingly complex world, when we are up against emerging market economies like China with its 1.2 billion people, the best way we can tackle those challenges is not by fragmenting but playing a full part as a member of the European Union”.

Mr Umunna conceded that Labour would have to go much further on its current tally of 10 out of 191 seats in the southern regions of England: “We’ve got to improve that number if we want to continue to be able to claim we are a One Nation party.”

On the state of the election campaign, Mr Umunna said: “The Tories spent all this money during this election campaign but they can’t buy momentum. One thing I think that’s really important we have illustrated as a party that we can spend money wisely.” Asked if Labour now had momentum, he added: “There is a ‘mo’. We’ve got the mo. There is no doubt about that.”

Acknowledging that Scotland was going to be a tough fight for Labour, however, he added: “We do approach this campaign with humility. The lesson that the Tories did not learn in 2010 was don’t approach a campaign with hubris. You see hubris on the part of Cameron, and you see humility on the part of our leader.”

Mr Umunna said Ed Miliband had done a “bloody good job” as leader of the opposition, which he described as “the most difficult job in British politics”.

Nick Clegg has warned Ed Miliband that he would not form a Labour-Lib Dem coalition that relied on any “life support” from the SNP (PA/Getty)

So would he want that job if there were a vacancy? “I always remember the advice of my political mother Tessa Jowell on politics in general, which is just keep your feet firmly on the ground, remember it’s not about you, it’s about the party and the community that you represent and about your ideas that are going to change the nation.

“And I never expected to be an MP when I was growing up. There are very few people who look like me in politics, and I can’t quite believe that I may be lucky enough to be appointed, if Ed decides to appoint me, as business secretary – that will do me.”

Promises, promises...

Nick Clegg has warned Ed Miliband that he would not form a Labour-Lib Dem coalition that relied on any “life support” from the SNP, even under an informal arrangement, because Nicola Sturgeon wanted to “pull our country to bits”.

Yet the Deputy Prime Minister’s words to the Financial Times may be taken with a pinch of salt because political leaders say all sorts of things during election campaigns – and later do something else. Mr Clegg promised not to increase university tuition fees, in 2010, before signing up to it under the coalition. David Cameron, in the same campaign, promised he had “no plans” for a VAT rise, but his government’s first Budget increased the tax to 20 per cent.

The truth is there’s a lot of wishful thinking during election campaigns that is later crushed by reality. Faced with a break-up of  his party, or being forced to stand down as leader, Mr Clegg might sign up to Lib-Lab minority government and redefine “life support” – in effect, no active deal with the SNP, but passively being backed by SNP MPs on a case-by-case basis.

Jane Merrick

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